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Zinedine Zidane and and the event of the secret

Grant Farred produces a Derridean reading of Zidane’s world-stopping head butt.


When speaking of a voyou, one is calling to order; one has begun to denounce a suspect, to announce an interpellation, indeed an arrest, a convocation, a summons, a bringing in for questioning: the voyou must appear before the law.” – Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason.


Jacques Derrida argues that an especial vulnerability – always open to the possibility of violent action or the risk of repression – is endemic to the figure of the voyou, the rogue. In contemporary politics the rogue – in order, no doubt, to protect itself – retains a certain elusiveness.

The voyou is a political subject that is difficult to identify exactly, not quite a trickster in the Brer Rabbit mould but nevertheless a figure capable of artful deception, of seductive trickery, and even, in moments, of pure seduction – when cast as the “lovable rogue”. The indefinability of the rogue is, as it were, the “secret” of the voyou, which explains why there is such a thin line between a voyou and the racialised citizen, why there is little to tell the disenfranchised citizen apart from the illegal immigrant. It is in the nature of the secret that it is always difficult to distinguish with absolute certainty the criminal, the suspect, the unlawful, the voyou, from those immigrants who are non-criminal, those raced bodies above questioning or outside the orbit of interrogation, the law abiding. In Rogues, Derrida’s concern is the international moment of “terror”, post-9/11 life in our divided, colliding world. However, his invocation of, his convocation with, the figure of the voyou attained a strange, strangely French, localised globality in the summer of 2006. A keen footballer in his youth, the event of Zinedine Zidane in the final of the 2006 World Cup had a roguish quality that Derrida, who hailed from the same North African country as Zidane’s parents, would surely have appreciated.

(After the World Cup, Zidane announced, he would return to Algeria for a vacation with his father. Also, more importantly, to familiarize himself with the – other – place he “came from,” the place that was his before his youth in the banlieue – the “immigrant”- dominated, working class suburbs on the outskirts of French cities – in Marseille, that place which made him a “Kabyle from the Castellane”.)

The Algerian-born Derrida’s passion for football is, in strictly French philosophical terms, well known. It is, arguably, outmatched only by the talents of another pied noir, Albert Camus, who was a rather fine amateur goalkeeper before he turned his attention to matters of literature, philosophy and politics. Interesting, but fitting for his class, that Dr Ernesto “Ché” Guevara was an elitist when it came to matters of sport. While the existentialist and the deconstructionist were of the masses in their athletic tastes, the revolutionary was decidedly not. In the places of his youth, Alta Gracia and Córdoba, the famously asthmatic Ché played rugby, at the pivotal position scrum-half (where else would a future leader of the world revolution play?), and golf. This in a country long ruled by a single sporting passion, one inherited from the British: futbol. One wonders what sport that other famous revolutionary man of medicine, the Martinican Frantz Fanon, favoured? For their part, Derrida, Camus and Zizou (and, of course, Fanon) share a public secret, these iconic figures in the life of the post-War French polis. They all trace their roots to somewhere outside of France, so that they stand, symbolically alongside Zidane, united in their dismissal of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s attack on the racially-mixed team that represented France at the Coupe du Monde in Germany in 2006. This was not, Le Pen more or less said, a “team of Frenchmen”. A Les Bleus team, in other words, that could represent the white, racist national imaginary of Le Pen and his supporters. “Maybe,” Le Pen offered, “the coach exaggerated the proportion of the players of colour”. It was not, on this occasion, as it has been in the past, Zidane who critiqued the racism of Le Pen, but his teammate, and fellow World Cup 1998 winner, Lilian Thuram – who has long shared Zidane’s position on racism in France.

 Bespectacled (off the field), thoughtful, and an elegant defender, the Guadeloupe native Thuram was articulate and precise in his rebuttal of Le Pen. After the unexpected victory against Spain in the quarterfinals, Thuram chastised Le Pen for not knowing the racial – and therefore colonial – history of France. The role of 2006 Coupe du Monde voyou, of the rogue who refused the limits of the law, the rogue punished by one set of laws and redeemed by another, however, belonged solely to Zizou: the voyou whose historic act of roguishness, whose head butting – the coup de boule – of his Italian opponent, Marco Materazzi, in the waning moments of extra-time in the World Cup final, revealed the politics of the secret, the not-so-secret politics of football, the not-so-secret politics of race and racism as it obtains on the football field. The secret, the event of the coup de boule made patently clear, cannot be kept secret. This essay is only in part, almost incidentally, an attempt to understand the motivations for Zidane’s head butt; only in part a critique of the un-spoken problem of race and language during a Coupe du Monde – a World Cup during which race was ostensibly spoken and spoken about all the time.
  Instead, this essay thinks the impossible possibility of such an event: the secret, which both is and is not, for structurally essential reasons, kept. The event of the secret that is also a kind of unpredictable, incalculable venting of the secret, constitutes a sharing which is also an expelling: the event of the secret signals not only a foreclosed relationship between Zizou and Materrazi but a public document that envelops – inveterately draws in – the monde/mondial/world. The secret is the incalculable sum of what we, spectators, officials, and players, can never know. Not us and not even Zidane and Materazzi, those closest to it, can really know the why, what, and how of the event. The event cannot, finally, be explained, not even with a full recapitulation of the temporally brief but historically extended exchange between Zidane and Materazzi.

No amount of cultural analysis will be able to account for the event so that the following litany of questions are crucial but, ultimately, limited in their interrogative usefulness: Who knows what happened on that Berlin evening of the July 9? Who knows what happened between the brilliant, sublimely talented “boy from the banlieue,” Zizou, and the Italian hard man, the defender Marco Matterazi? Does it matter that we know? How could it not matter? Why would we not want to know what was said, what happened?


Why not account fully for Zizou’s act, the coup de boule, the head butt that launched a million talking heads? The head butt that reverberated into the chatrooms of the internet, into the cafes and bars of Europe, to say nothing of the condemnation, explication, praise and even national recuperation that followed after Zidane took his head to Matterazi’s chest. No amount of psychology or psychoanalysis. The event cannot be reduced to a matter of individual capacity, the accountability or liability of a single player even as Zidane’s signality is, literally, constitutive of the event: the event that is made up of his head, made in his head, made by his head, in the moment, some would have it, that he “lost his head” through the use of cranial force. The event exists now, in its most potent political form, in all our heads: Zidane’s head symbolically transferred through its forcefulness against Materazzi into our political imaginaries: butting, with the kind of unerring power, accuracy, and sure placement of a Zidane header, straight from the TV screen into our store of cultural knowledge, unsettling us, disturbing us in our heads.

Neither can the event of the coup de boule be represented as simply the final, unthinking act of a player “re-turning” to his rough Castellane “roots”. Zindane cannot be cast in that outmoded role (“you can take the . . . out of the banlieue/ghetto/barrio, but you can’t take the banlieue/ghetto/barrio out of the . . .”): the boy from Marseille who, despite all the accolades, the World Cup (1998) winner’s medal, the French triumph in the Euro 2000 championship (a victory over Italy, no less), the league championships in Italy (Juventus) and Spain (Real Madrid), and three times FIFA World Player of the Year (1998, 2000, and 2003) awards, remained a Castellane, a product of the banlieue who had not un-learned, fully, the combative ways of the tough streets of Marseille.

The contextual, the imbroglio, and the psychobiographical account simply will not do. Not, by itself, not unless it is engaged as a web of signification that extends way beyond the Berlin stadium, beyond sport, beyond the cult of personality that Zizou evokes, and beyond nationalist politics and sentiment; all the while, of course, recognising how thin yet resilient, how imbricated yet ill-defined are the critical layers that connect these various forces. This essay constitutes, in Mary Jacobus’ terms, a “form of désouvrement, in Blanchot’s sense – a restless un-working that refuses totalisation and proceeds not by way of critique, but rather juxtaposition, divergence, and difference” – the secret and its public effects, the event and the Event, the world and the World Cup, and post-Berlin Wall Berlin and post-apartheid South Africa.

On its own, sport only matters within its own time. The political, however, exceeds itself (or, alternately, encompasses everything) so that it derives its constitutive ability from its capacity to make the time of the event, its own: the time of the Event: the time of history. Precisely so with l’Affaire Zizou: it could not be contained by the time of its own making, the time of Berlin (the truncated time of the game) or the (extended, historic) time of the banlieue. It became the time of history, in no small measure because it changed – in the moment of the coup de boule – the history of the Coupe du Monde, the laws according to which the World Cup can, in future – a future that began in the dying minutes of extra-time in the 2006 final – no longer be played.

Because it represents the time of history, the event/ Event of Zidane must be talked about. And, anticipated, and, guarded against. That is the responsibility of the host. Not only of Fifa, the game’s organising body, or even the singular responsibility of the 2006 host, Germany – or, the city of Berlin in particular. With Zidane having headed off, literally, into retirement, the greatest responsibility is the precipitous one: the host of the 2010 finals, South Africa. In this way, the Event demands that it be understood, in part, as the sum of its political effects: the effects that echo from one historical site, Berlin, to another, postapartheid South Africa, from one history of division (ideological, East v. West) to another (racial, black versus white).

The Secret. Here a silence is walled up in the violent structure of the founding act. – Jacques Derrida, “The Force of Law.”

If, as Derrida argues, a “reason must be reasoned with,” then in the Event of Zidane a special kind of reasoning is demanded. Not least of all, I should add, because Fifa has no clue as to how to respond to the event (banning the retired Zidane for three games and fining him £3,260 and Materazzi for two games and £2,170 is hardly the required action). Moreover, the event represents a dramatic rupture with the usual narratives for interpreting verbal attacks, on-field provocations (“it’s just a natural part of the game,” that logic goes), and physical violence on the field of play. For many, football administrators, referees, and spectators, this is all a normal, even constitutive, part of the game – Materazzi was quick to point out that he had done nothing “unusual”. Within the “normal” scheme of rhetorical things, the Italian is probably right, but what the Event reveals is how simultaneously routine and radical the event is. It requires only a small break with the normative to produce a critical rupture with the usual order of things.

It is for this reason that the event of the World Cup (and not only the final) became the Event of Zizou, it made clear the particular responsibility of all future hosts, but an especially critical one – for racial, geo-political, and historical reasons – for the 2010 World Cup host. The moment of decision, as Derrida and Kierkegaard agree, is a “moment of madness” so that we can never have a decision – an action – without the constitutive possibility of not knowing fully, of giving ourselves over to the kind of “madness” that makes the political possible. The Event of Zidane is, in this way, both a moment of madness and, as his critics would have it (those who accuse him of blighting his career in its final chapter and that in its final minutes) a “maddening” (as in a “maddeningly unnecessary”) moment. Because we sometimes understand “madness” as the unpredictable and the incalculable, does not, however, make it un-reasonable. For this reason alone, out of a fear of madness that might produce an Event, South Africa should be talking about – as well as guarding against, and anticipating – nothing else.

The Secret.

Here a silence is walled up in the violent structure of the founding act.- Jacques Derrida, “The Force of Law.”

The secret is always the shared act, the intimate exchange, the secret that is only partially and, therefore, more powerfully, a secret. The secret is always shared because the secret always exists, circulates, outside of the self, outside of the secret itself; the secret is never secret. The secret is not silence, the secret is loud reverberation: nothing speaks louder than the secret. It is for this reason that the secret becomes absolute danger, absolute threat. The secret can never be contained to, within itself; the secret, perforce, exceeds itself, makes itself other to itself – the secret is always more than itself, and, consequently, less than itself. The secret is less than itself because it does not matter what Materazzi said to Zidane. It matters only that he said it, that he said it repeatedly, according to Zidane, and it matters most that Zidane found Materazzi’s pronouncements unacceptable. Zidane would not let Materazzi say them anymore, he would not allow those utterings, those in the heat of the action mutterings, insults, that trash talk, that mano-a-mano bantering, go unanswered, without the “banlieue” body speaking, through the head, to the offending southern European body. (Can Fifa really regulate language?)

Will such laws of language draw into question the “masculinity,” the bravado, the each-“man”-take-careof- himself attitude? After the Event of 2006, the issue might be more pertinent: can FIFA – and the 2010 hosts – afford not to?) In the moment of the head butt or, perhaps more accurately, in the moment just before the head was used, in the moment that the head decided “enough,” the secret ceased to be a secret. After all, how could it continue to be a secret when the whole world was invited, literally, to watch, even as the secret that was no longer secret retreated into the time of the event, and as it remained locked on a patch of green grass in a Berlin stadium, a stadium in a city that was itself once famously divided and full of secrets, a city that lived between two times, a time filled with history and secrets; a history of a city prefixed “East” and “West”, a history of secrets that flooded, in 1989, through a wall and continues today to make itself public in the blatant inequality between the historic East and West; a city whose two sets of secrets lived in all-too proximate danger of each other; secrets that lived separately, secrets that collided, secrets that depended upon each other’s existence for their own livelihood, secrets that inveighed against and invaded each other, sometimes in the same moment, occasionally in and through the same gesture.

Germany, then, has reconciled (through the process of unification, through “elimination,” neither East nor West but reconstituted – again – as “Deutschland”) against the secret. But the public secret – that was declared, however un/successfully, no longer a secret through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – of apartheid continues to haunt South Africa. The public secret of on-going, racialised inequity in South Africa, where the black poor remain ravaged by poverty, unemployment, violence and HIV/Aids, will pose an ethical problem for a black South African government.

How does a black post-apartheid government host a massively expensive international tournament while – not too far from the plush, newly built (and safely completed, one hopes, as concerns mount early about the pace, or lack thereof, of material progress) stadia – the black disadvantaged are denied access to the world event that “they” are putatively, symbolically, hosting? An event hosted in their name but to which they are not invited while the international media and football partisans from the world over take to the streets of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.

The event between Zidane and Materazzi was, in media terms, over before it started. It happened away from the camera, seen only by a (relative) handful of spectators before the camera re-turned, and recreated it for hundreds of millions of viewers as if it were happening then, in that very moment, before the very eyes of the whole world. The world watching the World Cup head for an unprecedented event: a violent confrontation, the dismissal of a national captain playing in the final game of his storied career, the unravelling of the Coupe du Monde into an unsatisfactory conclusion. The event of the coup de boule became an event only when the world was “invited” into the already passed, but now impossible to pass, time of Zidane and Materazzi. In the moment of the turning to the past, the event began to live outside of itself, the secret could no longer be a secret even as the details of the physical exchange (the head butt apart, that is) and the rhetorical particulars of the exchange remain hidden. In its aftermath, in its be-coming an event, it opened itself up to the secret’s greatest threat and single greatest advantage: hermeneutics: the interpretation of, the speculation about, the content of the secret. What did Materazzi say? Are we to trust what Materazzi said?

On the other hand, are we to trust Zidane’s classic non-apology apology, what literary critic Alice Kaplan has named a “classic je m’en excuse, mais je ne regrette pas” (I apologise but I do not regret it)? Zidane’s national TV “apology” was truly an unforgettable public performance. Clad in a high-end fashion “military” jacket, he spoke slowly, with a deliberate pronunciation of almost every syllable of every word, and gently, repeatedly invoking children, said sorry that his actions might have been inappropriate for them. In that “apology,” Zizou created a bizarre disjuncture between his faux battle garb and his, a Canal+ TV commentator suggested, “child-like” manner. Did he especially address children because children, and teachers too got their fair share of attention (because they instruct the young and impressionable in morality, in the difference between right and wrong) and that they alone might have been improperly influenced by the nature, scope, and intensity of the event? Did this make children alone deserving of an apology? Or, as is more likely the case, is it that Zidane did not want to set a “bad example” (as Le Monde lamented in its July 10 edition) having, of course, done precisely that and, then, compounding that by explaining his actions sans apology?

In the TV interview, the (banlieue) warrior had, it seemed, become a crafty, voyou-like “Bambi”. However, the measured quality of his speech recalled the deliberateness of his actions during the Event.

In both instances, Zidane moved according to his own time, in his own time, in a time he made his (and Materazzi’s) own. The Event was frozen in time, locked into the slowness of his motion, Zidane moving forward, toward Materazzi, with a sureness that was not hurried. Throughout, Zizou kept his hands at his sides, as if to, in the fashion of the rogue, suggest that he was acting within the broad framework of the law of football while the intention was clearly to transgress; Zidane was not only breaking the law, he was taunting it. Zidane did not, as is often the case in on-field violence, use his hands – this was not a matter of the usual theatrical fisticuffs. He used his head, a perfect legitimate action in the game, except, of course, when the head becomes a cranial weapon. Just seconds, it seems, after his head had almost won the game and a second World Cup for France.

Late in the second half of extra-time Zidane picked up the ball, with a gazelle-like, loping grace, in the Italian half, before laying a pass off beautifully into space for his teammate Malouda, another of the “players of colour” so maligned by Le Pen. Zidane continued his run and, eluding with a poetic ease the Italian central defenders, Carnavarro and Materazzi, he drifted behind his markers and headed the ball with his trademark beauty and power. In the Italian goal, Buffon saved brilliantly, going high to his left and tipping the goal-bound header over the bar. Almost immediately afterward, it seemed, Materazzi felt the force of that head in a very different way.

That visage, of Zidane’s head ominously poised and headed for Materazzi’s chest, returned a few days later during Zidane’s tête-a-tête with French president, Jacques Chirac. Shaking hands with the French leader, in his fatigue jacket, Zizou is standing at just such Chirac, as if to repeat the Event by head butting the Head of State – transgressing not only the law (of the game) but acting against the sovereign. It did not happen, of course, but that it was so spectrally evocative in the Zizou-Chirac encounter as to suggest how mobile the Event is, how – in the most unusual locales – the Event is never out of place. The history of the Event makes, as it were, every moment, every occasion, a time in which the Event can occur. Again. (Not so) unexpectedly.

However, what was politically salient about the Zizou-Chirac meeting was that the French president “forgave” Zidane, like a Catholic priest granting absolution, only this time in the name of the sovereign, not God. The most visible and successful product of the banlieue (after the French Coupe du Monde victory in 1998, Zizou became – literally – not only the poster boy for, not only the face but also the head of, the multi-racial nation), Zidane was granted clemency by the sovereign. On the other hand, those other “Berbers” (the native inhabitants of the Maghreb, those whose presence in North Africa predate the Arab conquest), “Beurs” (the mainly Algerian children of immigrants, who are, like Zizou, citizens of France), and “Arabs” from those self-same suburban ghettoes in Paris and Zidane’s Marseille, among other places, who had taken to the streets to act against the brutality of the police in October 2005, would never be candidates for sovereign that seems destined to become a goal that is denied by instinctive goalkeeping – that produce historic effects. Had Zidane not made the pass, or if he had scored a second goal, the Event might never have occurred. But that point is moot except in so far as it reveals how the Event is the effect of the unforeseeable; the Event is secretly lodged, undistinguished, until it irrupts into the routine. It is for this reason that we do not need to know what Materazzi said in order for us to insert ourselves in the secret; in order for us to stake claim to a time that was originally not ours but was, of course, made entirely ours because the event of the Coupe du Monde belongs, first and foremost, to the world.

So it is appropriate that the world should locate itself in the time and space of the secret it does not know but is entirely surrounded by, enveloped by, intrigued by, and all the while unconcerned about its own “ignorance” (the “not knowing” what was said between Zidane and Materazzi) – an ignorance, of course, alleviated and remedied by the world’s infinite capacity to interpret, whether it be through lip readers or political critique. Did Materazzi call Zidane a “terrorist”? When asked about exactly this issue, Materazzi replied that he was “too ignorant” to know what a “terrorist” was. The only connation of “terrorist” he was familiar with, he said, was the behaviour of his “ten month old daughter”. Is Materazzi the only member of our technologically advanced society grace. The place of the Beur, metonymically speaking, in the French nation was at its penal core: excluded through carceral inclusion. Or, more accurately, occlusion. Those other banlieue heads could, as it were, be sacrificed to the law of the state – in part, of course, because it could never, had never, would never, head the nation to glory – or, eventful infamy or fame, depending on your point of view.

What this concatenation of actions demonstrates is the constitution of, the build-up to the Event. The Event is incalculable and unpredictable because it is, like the tiny modulations and the “random” outcome of things on the field of a play – the vision to conceive a brilliant pass, the mobility to fashion a header who has escaped the realities of the post-9/11 world? The world that “terror” made? In this way, of course, Materazzi too is a voyou.

The time of the Event opens up – into history – and opens up History: the history of racism in Europe, in football (the inadequacies of the “Kick Racism Out of Football” was nowhere more starkly evident than on Fifa’s most public stage; what does it matter if fancy banners are paraded before the game if during the encounter it’s rhetorically offensive business as usual?), in France (what with Le Pen proclaiming this Les Bleus team to be inadequately representative of the/ his French nation), and, much more pointedly, in Italy (not a black player in sight on the Italian national team, up against a French team whose key performers, the brown bodies and the black ones, Zidane and Thuram, Malouda and Claude Makalele, are all the products of France’s colonial adventures; what of that aporia, why no black Italian players?) The Event also opened up into the history of colonialism, of the history of language (the history of the term “Muslim terrorist”; the history of language that is permissible in football – what are the limits of that language? What are the limits of repetition? How often can an Italian player verbally offend an Algerian Berber’s ailing mother, and/or sister? How does the language of misogyny operate on the football field? When is that language no longer permissible?), and the history of the name (what does the French Zidane “mean” to the Italian Materazzi? How ignorant, as Materazzi so expediently claimed to be, is an Italian national footballer exactly? What language, what pejorative naming, lies outside of his purview?) The secret, in this way, is not only formed by and within the context of history, it is at its core deeply historical: the secret is nothing but the sedimentation of histories, the accumulation of conflicts, violences, offences and effects, and of, finally, secrets that could not, would not, remain secret. Within history, the secret is impossible. For Zidane, more importantly, it was crucial that the secret be shown to be undesirable. Even though Zidane did not, has not (yet) revealed what was said, in the act of head butting he made the world complicit in the “secret” of racism. He committed the act, but it was his heady intrusion into Materazzi’s chest that invited the world in: by transgressing the law, by challenging the sovereign’s (the referee’s) monopoly on the right to punish (violence), Zidane drew the law into a question it (Fifa) has never addressed, let alone begun to imagine a response to. The world event was made, through Zidane’s action, a world Event.

Try as he might, Zidane cannot escape his own public naming: the meaning of his name, “Zinedine Yazid Zidane,” self-proclaimed “non-practicing Muslim” married to a Catholic Spanish-French wife Véronique Zidane (née Lentisco) and the father of four sons, three of whom have obviously Christian names, of which two are distinctly Italian in their flavour – Enzo, Luca, Théo and Elyaz. A faith may be renounced, shaken off, half-heartedly or fully rejected, but the trace of the history of the name remains inscribed upon the subject. The name is necessarily commensurate with what Derrida names “khora”: the place of the name, the spacing that distinguishes one name, one locale, from another, from a name, “Muslim” or “Zidane” (or its transcription into “Zizou”), that is partially shed but never beyond recall. The khora might, in this historic instance, be figured as the “interval,” the time between one World Cup and another, one instantiation of the law and its continuation or its radical amendment. “Zinedine Yazid Zidane” situates Zizou, for Le Pen and probably also for Materazzi, outside of Europe, outside of the nation, outside of his wife and sons, and relocates him to another time, because the secret is always marked by violence, by an act whose speaking is never fully permissible within the public and, in its “secrecy”, remains as the trace that haunts the public.

“Zidane” stands as the time before which is, because of history, the time of another violence: colonialism. Postcolonial France cannot account, in its description of Zidane as the “Kabyle from the Castellane,” when his proper name might be both “Kabyle” and “Berber,” when his proper name might be, because of the perturbations of history, already lost, recoverable only in the time of violence: in, and as, the event of the World Cup. All of which lends a certain patriarchal poignancy to Zidane’s declaration – before the final – that he would, accompanied by his father, re-turn to Algeria after he retired. Zidane acted, in the Event, in the name of Woman, of “Berber” and “beur” Woman, his mother and his sister, respectively, speculatively. Materazzi insulted either Zidane’s mother or his sister (but not, tellingly, his wife, the European Woman), and Zidane responded – in the terms of the secret – with the coup de boule. Zidane only talks, however, of a possible return to Algeria with his father, the Berber, the Father from a post-independence Algeria. The re-turn to, which is also a kind of first turning to, “la Kabylie,” is the business – the journey, the trajectory that leads both away from and back to both France and Algeria – of (“Muslim”) men.

A secret is necessarily a violent thing in that its retention requires that a violence be done, almost daily, to the self; it demands, in its ipseity (its selfness), that violence be done to those with whom the self comes into contact. There will always be, from now on, on Zizou the trace of Coupe du Monde violence, a singular violence that makes nothing (and, of course, everything to his critics) of his previous outbursts of anger on the field, his previous head butt. In the 2000/01 season, while playing for the Italian giants, Juventus, in the European Champions League competition against the German side, SV Hamburg, Zidane head butted Jochen Kientz. It was one of Zidane’s 14 career red cards; the most ignominious, of course, came in the 2006 Coupe du Monde final when he became the first player to be sent off in the extra-time of a World Cup.

Zizou and Materazzi will be forever protagonists, in that they – the combatants who constitute the Event – scored, with a fitting and sharp historical irony, the only two goals in 120 minutes of football in the 2006 World Cup final. They will be antagonists bounded, canonised (Zidane), redeemed (Zidane), and vilified (Zidane and Materazzi) by that violence, forever inscribed by it, inscribed in it, inscribed as it. Contained within the trace is the history of a violence that is both historical and personal: the trace of previous head butts by Zidane, the trace of violent sendings off incurred by Materazzi in not one but two countries, England and Italy, a history not unlike Zidane’s.

Deemed by many to be among the greatest players the “beautiful game” has ever seen, together with Ferenc Puskas, Pele, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Gordon Banks, Lev Yashin, Maradona, and, arguably the greatest of them all, Alfredo Di Stefano, Zidane’s greatness, his gifts as a footballer, will now forever be marked by the trace of the Event. Not simply the violence of the head butt, or the effects that the event produced, but the Event that eclipsed the event – the head butt that reduced the World Cup final to an afterthought. That also, however, made the World Cup final what it constitutively is but is never fully engaged as: political. The Event situated race, and racism, and the history of colonial racism, and the lived experiences of the (“Kabylie” from the) banlieue in Marseille and the Parisian suburbs, as the very political of football. Zidane’s greatness will now forever bear the traces of a secret and a roguishness, gilded by his brilliant skills, as an Event bred simultaneously in Europe and la Kabylie, a product of both the robust environs of the banlieue and the lush playing fields of France, Italy and Spain. The eventality of Zidane made public the “secret” relationship between the colonizer and the (erstwhile) colonised, between Europe and its
autre self.

The Event of the coup de boule was a space into which the world was inserted, a space and a time into which Africa (an Africa far removed from Zidane’s Maghreb and Algeria, but an Africa familiar to his colleagues Thuram and the Senegalese-born Patrick Vieira), and South Africa in particular, was thrust, with a full and rare historical force. South Africa 2010 is a crucial football and political event. This is the first time that the Coupe du Monde will be held in a “black” country – which is how the world will see it even as South Africa’s post-apartheid history and sense of political self militates against such a naming.

As the hosts of the 2010 World Cup, South Africa is a country where the ghosts of apartheid racism rest uneasily. In a society that prides itself on its nonracism (all of which invokes its history of racism, its historic racism), how will the Event of 2006 manifest itself? Will the Event of the banlieue’s head butt reverberate into black Africa? Will Fifa legislate on what language is permissible between players on the field? Against what kind of language will it legislate? Which raises the issue in which Zidane, Derrida, Le Pen and the Events of 2006 and 2010 are all so deeply enmeshed: what kind of hosts will South Africa be, what kind of hospitality will be forthcoming from the nonracist society? How many voyous can a black Coupe du Monde host endure? What of the rogues who will, as they now already do, bring the secret of the failed South African politic to scrutiny? Will they, these homeless, unemployable, HIV/Aids “victims” be tolerated by a host of which they are constitutive?

“Unconditional hospitality exceeds juridical, political, or economic calculation,” Derrida writes, “but no thing and no one happens or arrives without it.” Nothing raises the issue, some would prefer the spectre, of diaspora like hospitality: how is the other to be accommodated? Made at home? Made ill at ease? Or, in extremis, refused entry as is the case of those fleeing Morocco for Spain or Zimbabwe for South Africa. There could be no diaspora without, at the very least, grudging hospitality. There can be no World Cup without hospitality for what is a Coupe du Monde but a celebration of the global diaspora? South Africa, a society so enamoured of its signality as a non-African African country: the state of exceptional African democracy, the exceptional (and therefore, only nominally, only geographically, dare one say?) African country, the state of African exceptionality, the society so inhospitable to its fellow-Africans (those who come in search of work, those who seek refuge from the scourge of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, those who cluster in their “criminal” Nigerian ghettoes in Johannesburg’s dilapidated high rises), will have to host – be hospitable to – Europe, Latin America, Asia, and, it may fear, its African neighbours. That is the secret of the 2010 World Cup: the story, the unspeakable fear, of a different articulation of “race” (whose proper name may be “xenophobia”), the re-emergence of race-ism in the society that triumphed historically over it.

All secrets, by their imagining of themselves as precluding knowledge, priding themselves on their inexplicability, their capacity to retain, both promise their survival and threaten themselves: the secret can only live with, and as, the threat of revelation. That is the power of the secret; that is also its most profound vulnerability: what it imagines is not known, may already be partially known, or speculated about, or in existence as rumour or knowledge; there may be no power in what it reveals. The secret has to live daily with the threat of exposure (Materazzi may finally be “outed,” but how much will it matter then? As has been proven when, in September 2006, Materazzi offered his account of the “secret” – his insult of Zidane’s sister, which left no mark upon the Event; Materazzi’s “confession” had no effect on the Event) or, worse, the threat of democratic insufficiency. That is why the secret can become absolute danger, the absolute threat to the political. What is the consequence for the nonracial constitutional democracy, South Africa, showing itself inhospitable to the – African – autre?

 After Zidane’s head butt that is a possibility that must be anticipated. This is a reason, an event with all the hallmarks of decision made in madness, in a “moment of madness” that is not madness but the decision of the Event, which must be reasoned with. If no event is without madness, then here – in the expectation of the madness of inhospitality or of a madness that does not legislate the discourse of the rhetorically permissible within the conflictuality of the contest – is an event that demands a reasoning with so that it does not become an Event.

Grant Farred is a lifelong fan of Liverpool Football Club. He is the author of What’s My Name? Black Vernacular Intellectuals and Midfielder’s Moment: Coloured Literature and Culture in Contemporary South Africa. He is currently at work on a football book titled Long Distance Love: A Passion for Football.

This article first appeared in print in Chimurenga 10 – Football, Politricks & Ostentatious Cripples (December 2006).
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